Liverpool face a tricky test when Austrian champions FC Salzburg — without the use of their sponsored name in this competition due to UEFA rules — visit Anfield for the second matchday of Group E in the Champions League.
The Reds will feel hard done by the opening fixture away to Napoli. A dubious penalty and a rare mistake from Virgil van Dijk saw them leave Italy on the back of a 2-0 defeat. Jürgen Klopp’s side already trail first place by three points and another loss would put their progress in jeopardy.
The visitors opened their campaign with a 6-2 win over Belgian side Genk. The former employers of Naby Keïta and Sadio Mané are considered a feeder club to their parent club RB Leipzig but do possess a host of talent including 19-year-old Erling Håland, who has four hat-tricks in nine games.
Both sides can count the above pair — along with Andre Wisdom and Alex Manninger — as part of their respective histories of employees, but this will be the first time that the clubs have met in official competition.
Liverpool continued their 100% start to the season despite leaving their shooting boots back in Merseyside. A hard fought 1-0 win over Sheffield United proved to be a huge result especially given how the match went. Liverpool looked far from their usual selves at Bramall Lane but, as we’ve seen over the past 18 months, this side knows how to win ugly.
Sadio Mané missed two opportunities with only the goalkeeper to be beat. His blushed were spared thanks to a Gini Wijnaldum shot which squirmed underneath Dean Henderson to give the Reds a decisive lead. Mohamed Salah missed an opportunity to make it but fluffed his lines, Liverpool held out to maintain their five-point lead over Manchester City.
Salzburg are also unbeaten in their respective league — from their nine league games they have won eight and drawn the other, putting them five points ahead of second place. What’s more impressive is that in those nine league games, they have scored 40 — an average of 4.44 goals per game.
The aforementioned Håland has 11. Along with the young Norwegian, their team has many talented kids who should grace many leagues across Europe if they reach their potential.
The Norwegian became only the third teenager to score a hat-trick in the Champions League, placing his name in history along with Raúl, Wayne Rooney and Yakubu. Averaging a goal involvement every 33 minutes, the striker’s performances haven’t gone unnoticed. His form has seen him linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe — and Manchester United.
Klopp may have the game against Leicester City in mind when selecting his team. The Foxes currently sit third in the league so it may be a good idea not to risk our more important players. I expect Fabinho, Matip and Mané to be the more noticeable absentees — the latter pair missed training on Monday which could indicate minor injuries.
Adrián’s time in the first team looks to be ending. Alisson Becker has returned to training and is expected to be back after the next international break. If he can keep his form up for the next two games, he will have done a mighty fine job in the interim.
Joe Gomez should be the only change in defence, coming in for Matip to play alongside Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk and Andy Robertson.
The midfield three could consist of Georgino Wijnaldum, James Milner and Naby Keïta. The 24-year-old would be making his second start after returning from injury. Liverpool have often missed a player like the Guinean for the past few weeks so his return would be a welcome one.
Divock Origi will likely replace Sadio Mané up front, with Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino likely to be substituted for a rest if Liverpool are winning comfortably.
The Reds’ Austrian opponents made a handful of changes for their league game at the weekend — of the eleven who started in the 4-1 win over Austrian Vienna, only a handful will keep their place.
Cican Stanković will start in goal. The ‘keeper has three clean sheets in the league this season. A back four of Rasmus Kristensen, Andre Ramalho, Max Wöber and Andreas Ulmer will look to keep things tight at the back. Aged 33, the latter may be a weak link at left-back, especially up against the pace and trickery of Salah.
Antoine Bernede has missed the last two games through injury and will likely sit out of the game at Anfield. Enock Mwepu will probably take his place in a two-man midfield next to Zlatko Junuzović.
Ahead of the midfield will be the playmakers/wingers. Hungarian prodigy Dominik Szoboszlai will start next to Takumi Minamino, who prove to be a dangerous duo — between them, they have had a direct hand in 18 goals already this season.
Up front will likely be Hwang Hee-chan and Sékou Koïta. Erling Håland will be a huge miss for the Austrian side if he cannot shake off an illness in time to start. Still, the other two know where the goal is as well and could still cause problems, even without their Norwegian talisman.
FC Salzburg are quite a dangerous side considering the league they are in. They beat sister club RB Leipzig in the Europa League last season, showing how good a side they are. Liverpool should have enough quality to beat them, though, even if the Reds were to make a couple of changes.
Håland would be a handful for our defence but he will likely be missing. No striker has got the better of van Dijk for quite a while now and I don’t see that changing. Their formation of 4-2-2-2 may play into our favour — there will be plenty of space in midfield so Firmino should be very influential.
I think Liverpool will get their first win in the group stage and set them on their way to progressing into the knockout stages.
Predicted final score: Liverpool 3-0 FC Salzburg